Theater & Arts

Some reviews are in, but ‘Janka’ still hopes New York Times writes one

As “Janka” enters its third week of performances, audiences continue to grow. But the little miracle of an off-off-Broadway play that Fresno helped send to New York still hasn’t landed any big fish in terms of media coverage.

The biggest fish, of course, would be the New York Times. Janice Noga, who plays her mother-in-law, Janka Festinger Speace, in the one-woman show about surviving the Nazi atrocities of Auschwitz and Dachau, is still hoping for a Times review.

The challenge: Broadway openings tend to suck up most of the media oxygen in New York, and there are lots of them right now because of the upcoming deadline for Tony Awards eligibility.

“Janka” was written by Noga’s husband, Oscar Speace, and is staged by the Roust Theatre Company at the June Havoc Theatre. (The couple put more than $20,000 into the show.) Supporters in the central San Joaquin Valley raised nearly $50,000 for production costs.

Despite the lack of love so far from the city’s big dailies, the play has gotten some attention from other media sources, however. On the website Stage Buddy, Tyler Ianuzi is impressed: “Noga switches from mild, storytelling mother to despair and anger flawlessly, creating a character onstage with depth and history and utmost realism.”

Writing for the website Theater Pizzazz!, Samuel L. Leiter is impressed by the news that Noga overcame surgery for a brain tumor that left her with memory problems, noting that Noga originally presented the two-act, hour and a half play by using a reading stand.

“For the New York production, however, she set herself to memorizing the role and, despite several minor stumbles, was letter perfect when I attended. This was as much a testament to her own powerful determination to do Janka’s story proud, as it was to the ability of Janka herself to somehow survive the unbelievable cruelties of two concentration camps and forced labor in an ammunition plant.”

Leiter praises the play’s production values and applauds much of Noga’s performance. But he takes a gentle swipe at the play’s structure:

“It feels churlish to criticize a work so obviously the product of sincerity, love, and devotion, and on so sensitive a subject, but I do think ‘Janka’ would be improved if it were condensed to a single act running only an hour or so, with less emphasis on the postwar family material,” he writes.

In terms of feature coverage, Speace scored an interview about the show on the theater blog Call Me Adam.

Noga says she continues to work hard on the show. After Sunday’s matinee, the audience — which filled about three-quarters of the 98-seat theater — gave yet another standing ovation.

“It’s getting a lot more fun,” she said in a phone message after the show. “I’m so excited I can’t even talk.”

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